Consumer Survey: Eating and Shopping During a Global Pandemic

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Highlights:

  • For many, snacking habits have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. One in 3 (36%) report snacking more, while 33% said they’re snacking more often when bored or not hungry and 32% said they’re eating more snacks alone.
  • Nearly one in three (28%) report eating more packaged snacks, with convenience being the top reason for doing so.
  • Over half (52%) said they have not dined out at a restaurant in the past month.
  • Environmental sustainability, degree of processing and the mission and values of food companies lag far behind price and taste as grocery purchase drivers.

As we enter an autumn season unlike any of us imagined, our day-to-day habits and routines continue to be disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve highlighted many aspects of these disruptions in our recent consumer surveys, and now we’re taking a closer look at how we’re snacking, where we’re eating, and what our food priorities were in late summer 2020.

Here are some key findings:

One in three report snacking multiple times a day. This is up from about 24% who reported doing so earlier this year, as noted in our 2020 Food and Health Survey. An additional 31% said they snack once a day and 4% said they prefer to snack or graze throughout the day instead of eating three meals. Just 4% of survey takers said that they never snack.

For many, snacking habits have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. One in three (36%) reported snacking more, while 33% said they’re snacking more often when bored or not hungry and 32% said they’re eating more snacks alone—all possible indicators of the personal and professional lifestyle shifts many have undergone as a result of COVID-19. And yet, for many, changes to snacking habits have also skewed towards healthier options: 30% reported eating healthier snacks or snacking on fruits and vegetables more often than before. People with a college education were even more likely than the general population to report snacking on healthier foods, while people under age 45 were more likely to have changed their snacking habits in a variety of ways, from eating salty or sweet snacks more often to practicing mindful and intuitive eating. While there clearly have been major shifts in snacking habits, 62% say that they’re at least somewhat satisfied with their snacking habits overall.

Convenience is the top reason that nearly one in three are eating more packaged snacks. Twenty-eight percent of survey takers reported consuming more packaged snacks since the pandemic began. For those individuals, convenience was a major driver of the change, with 63% ranking it in their top two reasons for choosing more packaged snacks. This was followed by 43% who were looking for an indulgent treat, while one in four said that packaged snacks allowed them to make healthier choices.

Over half (52%) say they have not dined out at a restaurant in the past month, highlighting ongoing uncertainty about eating outside the home in the context of the pandemic. Eighteen percent said they’d eaten only in outdoor dining areas, while 21% said they’d eaten indoors and only 10% said they’d dined in both indoor and outdoor restaurant dining areas. Men, people with incomes over $80,000 per year and those with a college education were more likely to have eaten in indoor dining areas, while people under age 45 were more likely to say they’d only eaten in outdoor dining areas. People over age 45, those without a college education and those making less than $40,000 per year were more likely to say that they hadn’t eaten at a restaurant. Those who hadn’t eaten at a restaurant in the past month said they’d feel more comfortable with restaurant dining if certain safety measures were in place: 44% said that requiring restaurant employees to wear masks would make them feel more comfortable while dining at a restaurant; 34% said that allowing fewer people at one time or spreading out tables would ease their discomfort; and 30% cited increased frequency of wiping down counters and surfaces. Temperature checks for staff or guests were less often cited as a source of comfort, with just 16% and 15% choosing those options, respectively.

Environmental sustainability, degree of processing and the mission and values of food companies lag far behind price and taste as grocery purchase drivers. Forty-five percent said that price had the biggest impact on their decisions to buy food and beverages, while 27% reported that taste was their top priority. After adding in the percentage who selected price or taste as their number two or three purchase driver, the difference evened out: 78% ranked price in their top three, while 77% selected taste in their top three. In contrast, just 16% selected environmental sustainability or whether or not the food is processed in their top three. The lowest priority was a company’s mission and values, with just 14% ranking this aspect in their top three selections. Purchase drivers for food and beverages prepared outside the home were largely similar to grocery shopping, with one key difference: Convenience was more influential for food and beverages prepared outside the home.

It’s clear that the past few months will have a lasting impact on many aspects of our lives, especially when considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting economic fallout, and a reckoning with racial injustice within the U.S. Many Americans have responded in kind, with over half (57%) engaging in charitable giving and/or responding to company social justice statements in the past few months. Two in ten have donated items to a food bank, 19% have donated money to a food- or nutrition-related charity and 15% have donated money or supplies to essential workers. An equal number (16%) have stopped or started buying from a company in response to their public statements on social justice. Here again, age and income status were key factors: people under age 45 and those making over $80,000 per year were most likely to have taken many of these actions.

METHODOLOGY

One thousand online interviews were conducted among adults ages 18+ from August 79, 2020, and were weighted to ensure proportional results. The margin of error was ±3.1% at the 95% confidence level.   

This article was written by Ali Webster, PhD, RD.